SF State News {University Communications}

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Dissertations without distraction

January 29, 2009 -- Four graduate students are on the fast track to doctoral degrees thanks to a generous gift from the Genentech Foundation. San Francisco State was awarded $109,400 to aid in the completion of master's dissertations by minority graduate students in the sciences. Scholarships of $27,350 will allow each recipient to complete their master's degrees without the distraction of work outside of the lab.

SF State Genentech scholarship recipients

SF State Genentech scholarship recipients. Clockwise from top left: Teresa Reyes, Juliet Portillo, Eugenel Espiritu, Marissa Zubia-McMackin

"This support from the Genentech Foundation recognizes SF State's efforts to recruit, prepare and inspire underrepresented minority students who wish to pursue a Ph.D." said Professor of Biology and Director of Student Enrichment Opportunities Frank Bayliss.
He noted that only five percent of biomedical degrees awarded in the United States go to underrepresented minorities. A total of 64 underrepresented minority students have entered doctoral programs from SF State within the past three years. "There are many worthy candidates for this support at SF State," Bayliss said. SF State faculty selected recipients.
"San Francisco State University shares our commitment to furthering health science education, particularly for groups of students that have been historically underrepresented in the sciences," said Vishva Dixit, M.D., Health Science Committee Chair, Genentech Foundation. "By supporting this outstanding program at a local university, we hope to encourage the next generation of scientists." 

"It is difficult to imagine adding on an outside job and completing my thesis to the best of my ability without this help from the Genentech Foundation," said recipient Marissa Zubia-McMackin. The funding will provide the time to submit a paper on her research, apply for doctoral programs and spend more time with her eight-month-old-daughter. Mentored by Associate Professor of Biology Megumi Fuse, Zubia-McMackin is investigating the behavioral responses and underlying biochemical mechanisms of the tobacco hornworm nervous system. She hopes to advance to research on neurodegenerative disorders.

Recipient Eugenel Bermudez Espiritu who earned a bachelor's degree in genetics from University of California, Davis, was working algebra problems before he could read. The son of two accountants who emigrated from the Philippines, Espiritu is conducting research on the embryonic development of chickens in Professor of Biology Laura Burrus' lab.  "I am really interested in organ formation, cell adhesion and cell proliferation and differentiation," he said. "These topics have possible broader implications in regenerative medicine and cancer treatments."

Teresa Reyes, a native of Acapulco, Mexico, said her success as a student is directly related to the support she has received from her instructors at SF State. Under the mentorship of Assistant Professor of Biology Sally Pasion, Reyes' research examines the interaction between the Cdc24 gene and the enzyme, DNA polymerase Alpha-Primase. She plans a career in cancer research and teaching. "Since I was a child, I was always interested in how our bodies work," Reyes said. "It's a dream to pursue a Ph.D. and a luxury to do what I love."

Juliet Portillo, who earned a bachelor's degree in applied mathematics with a concentration in computer science from SF State, is conducting graduate research with her mentor Assistant Professor of Mathematics Mariel Vasquez. Portillo is using mathematical knot theory and computational methods to create a model for the movement of DNA in cells and the function of type II topoisomerases, a DNA associated enzyme that is a potential target of anti-microbial and anti-cancer drugs. "This support allows me to complete my degree as efficiently as possible," said Portillo, the mother of a toddler.

The Genentech Foundation is a private foundation established by Genentech, a leading biotechnology company that discovers, develops, manufactures and commercializes biotherapeutics for signifcant unmet needs.

-- Denize Springer


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